At least five dead in US from vaping-related lung disease

E-cigarettes have been available in the US since 2006 and are sometimes used as an aid to quit smoking traditional tobacco products like cigarettes. (AFP)
Updated 07 September 2019

At least five dead in US from vaping-related lung disease

  • No single substance has been found to be present in all the laboratory samples being examined
  • But focus is on black market cannabis e-cigarette products containing vitamin E oil

WASHINGTON: At least five people have died in the United States after vaping, officials said Friday, in an outbreak that has sickened hundreds with severe pulmonary disease and left several teens in induced comas.
Federal officials said that no single substance has been found to be present in all the laboratory samples being examined, however investigators in New York said they were now focusing on black market cannabis e-cigarette products containing vitamin E oil.
On Friday, local health authorities in California and Minnesota announced the vaping-related deaths of two individuals, both older and in relatively poor health, at least one of whom had used products containing THC, the principal psychoactive compound in cannabis.
There are now more than 450 possible cases of pulmonary illness associated with vaping, more than double the figure reported last week, according to Ileana Arias, acting deputy director for non-infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Daniel Fox, a pulmonologist in North Carolina, said that patients he had examined had a non-infectious pneumonia known as lipoid pneumonia, which can occur “when either oils or lipid-containing substances enter the lungs.”
New York’s health department said laboratory test results showed very high levels of vitamin E oil in cannabis cartridges used by all 34 people in the state who had fallen ill after using e-cigarettes, and as a result was focusing its investigation in that direction.
Vitamin E acetate is a commonly available nutritional supplement taken orally or applied to the skin, but is harmful when inhaled.
The Food and Drug Administration’s acting administrator Ned Sharpless said his agency was aware of the reports, “but no one substance, including Vitamin E acetate, has been identified in all of the samples tested” at a nationwide level.
Many patients reported vaping cannabis, but some said they had only inhaled nicotine products.
The first death was reported in Illinois in late August. Oregon announced this week that the death of a patient in July was also being linked to vaping. And authorities in Indiana have said a death occurred there as well, although they did not mention when.
Patients have reported symptoms including breathing difficulty and chest pain before they were hospitalized and placed on ventilators.
Medics said many people had been initially misdiagnosed as having bronchitis or a viral illness until their symptoms escalated, at times to very extreme levels.
The parents of Kevin Boclair, a 19-year-old from Philadelphia, told local news CBS 3 Philly their son had been placed in a medically induced coma three weeks ago and may require a lung transplant if he recovers.
“I even know, as a nurse, he could die,” said his mother Deborah Boclair. “So, we are hoping it gets better, and I just want his friends to know and all these kids out there — I could tell the parents, ‘tell your kids don’t do this.’”
Sean Callahan, the doctor who successfully treated 20-year-old Alexander Mitchell from Provo in Utah, said: “I’ve never seen anything like this before.
“You know, when I’ve had people this sick who need this sort of life support, it’s a really advanced case of like a flu, pneumonia or patients who have weakened immune systems from cancer and chemotherapy.”
Many of those who have recovered received steroid treatments, though doctors are not sure whether it was the drugs that cured them.
Investigators are also uncertain about whether the cases have only been occurring recently, or were happening earlier but were not being linked to vaping because of a lack of awareness.
E-cigarettes have been available in the US since 2006 and are sometimes used as an aid to quit smoking traditional tobacco products like cigarettes.
Their use among adolescents has skyrocketed in recent years: Some 3.6 million middle and high school students used vaping products in 2018, an increase of 1.5 million on the year before.
For now, the outbreak appears to be confined to the United States, despite vaping’s growing global popularity.


UK university SOAS to cut costs over COVID-19 and financial problems

Updated 31 May 2020

UK university SOAS to cut costs over COVID-19 and financial problems

  • Latest figures show that the internationally renowned higher education institution has multi-million pound deficits and risks running out of cash next year
  • SOAS said that it had taken short term action to reduce costs

LONDON: A UK university specializing in the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East has been forced to slash costs and implement drastic staff cuts after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic exacerbated its financial problems.
Staff at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), part of the University of London, said they feared that management was cutting costs to make the college an attractive takeover target for an overseas institution or one of its London rivals, UK newspaper the Guardian reported.
Latest figures show that the internationally renowned higher education institution has multi-million pound deficits and risks running out of cash next year.
The effects of the pandemic on student recruitment meant “a material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the school’s ability to continue as a going concern” over the next 12 months, SOAS’s auditors warned.
One academic at SOAS told the Guardian that the college’s senior managers had “been unable to make significant changes over the last few years, and now it has ended in a big crisis. This is a serious failure of management.”
Its senior academics were ordered to identify staff cuts that were to be submitted on Friday, and departments were asked to balance their budgets while expecting a 50 percent drop in new international students, the report said.
SOAS’s International Foundation Courses and English Language Studies Center, which provides courses to international students, has reportedly been told to make so many cuts that it will effectively disappear, along with its 55 staff.
The college’s highly regarded international development department, which is ranked eighth in the world, will also suffer from major cuts. Its famed anthropology and sociology department is likely to lose between a third and half of its academic staff.
“I think people are in shock,” a staff member said. “This all happened while we are still coping with COVID-19.”
SOAS released a statement on Friday saying the coronavirus pandemic had affected all British universities and that it was “taking decisive action now so that we can continue to ensure we provide an excellent student experience to our new and returning students.”
It acknowledged that although its “accounts show that SOAS has already taken steps to reduce its deficit position,” the “impact of COVID-19 has put finances across the HE sector under even greater pressure than before.”
It added that it had taken short term action to reduce costs including “pausing capital spend, line by line scrutiny of non-pay budgets” and reducing the use of building space in the Bloomsbury area in London, outside its core campus.
SOAS also said that additional proposals for change were being considered and would be implemented ahead of the start of the new academic year in September. 
SOAS, University of London, has been ranked in the UK’s top 20 universities for Arts and Humanities, according to the 2020 Times Higher Education World University Ranking.
The rankings place SOAS 13th in the UK and 57th in the world.